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How Video Modeling Has Helped My Son With Down Syndrome Learn New Things

“It’s just too hard for him.”

Over and over again, we would hear this phrase.

Because of his disability, my son, Knightly, had been forced out of school, church, and children’s programs by the age of 6.

Aside from having Down syndrome and Apraxia, he’d get easily overwhelmed by things like:

  • assemblies
  • group pictures
  • or loud noises from laughter to airplanes

So often, we’d hear people say, “it’s just too hard for him”.

Then, we discovered it: Video Modeling.

Or as I affectionately call it: “How-to videos for all abilities.”

And they’ve worked like magic. In the past year we’ve been using them, Knightly has:

  • Taken group pictures (thankfully with all his favorite Disney characters before Disneyland closed!)
  • Been on stage to a cheering assembly
  • Rode an airplane four times

AND, do you remember that school that forced him out?  Knightly’s old school said he had to be in a separate school in a separate special education only class with kids “just like him” in order to achieve his academic goals.

And because of the 30+ years of research that said otherwise, we didn’t agree, so we found a different school.

His old school thought it would take one whole year in a special education only setting to get Knightly to achieve his academic goals. In his general education setting, it took him three months. He achieved all his academic and 80% of his IEP goals.

For the past year and a half, he has been fully included in a General Education class 100% of the day, now all services pushed in.

And one-by-one, he has had to face the situations that once completely overwhelmed him. And he did. What was once impossible for him is now possible. What once required he be separated is now accessible.

It wasn’t just too hard for him. He just needed to take one step at a time.

Let me show you how we did it.

Allow me to present an example of our most recent How-To Video:
Let’s Video Call:

Now, there’s plenty of research in the past few decades that validate the power of video-based interventions from Haring, Breen, Weiner, Kennedy and Bednersch (1995), Biederman & Freedman (2007), to Mechling, Ayres, Purrazzella & Purazzela (2014).

I’d read it to you but I’d lose you and myself in the process.

So, let’s get down to what matters. Is there any issue (like behavioral, social, academic, communication, play) with which one of your kids is struggling?

Guess what? This can help for that too. So, how do you do it?…and with the least amount of work?

Let’s make a video…the easiest way possible.

1. Choose the issue (e.g. making a phone call).
2. Do-It-Yourself and jot down what you are doing step-by-step (every freakin’ step) that the kid needs to do.
3. Create the script in first person at the kid’s level (e.g. I get the phone. I look up the name. I dial the number and press call).

Here are some KEY TIPS:

  • Keep It Simple — Simple steps. Simple tasks.
  • Model Correct Behaviors — Are there any major behaviors you definitely want to address? Mention the positive behavior that will replace them. I often need to throw in: “I use nice hands” at the key moments where I know it’s a challenge.
  • Model Communication — With Apraxia, Knightly’s speech is generally unintelligible so he has to utilize an Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) device. I always model how to use the AAC in the video.
  • Throw in Favorites! — Throw in favorite people, places, things, food, and words in the video that’ll make them go, “OOOH OOOH I WANT TO WATCH MORE OF THIS!”

4. Get videogenic volunteers who speak clearly, slowly and will catch your kid’s interest (always great to include their classmates, relatives, people they love)

5.  Audio record one person saying the script (in a quiet car is easiest). Use the iPhone’s Voice Memos app or just google your device’s audio recording app.

6. Video record your volunteers acting out each line (or, even easier for you, ask them to record themselves and just email you the video).

KEY TIPS: Record

  • in the order outlined on your script
  • horizontally
  • in good lighting
  • as close up as possible (the farther away, the more boring it is for anyone to watch)

7. Edit in your video software (iMovie for Apple users is super easy).  If you listened to my steps above, you can just select each video in order and add the audio and VOILA! Done. You can even add music to make it more interesting.

8 . Upload on YouTube as “Unlisted” so only you and those with a link can view it. Then…

CONGRATULATIONS!  You made your first video!


1. Frontload Video with a Positive Reinforcer

I’ve found that showing the video once a day for the week prior to the event happening during a yummy breakfast works beautifully for Knightly.

2. Show Video in Real Situation

I will then place Knightly in the specific situation, playing the video right before I do. Then, I’ll play it again during the situation. I play it by ear to see how far he can go, never usually doing the entire situation at the first exposure, but I always…

3. End the Situation with a Positive Reinforcer

To set him up for success, I make sure to start and end on a happy note for Knightly to build positive associations.

4. Baby Steps to Victory

Take it one step at a time. Ensure you and your child feel confident to do the next thing.

5. Update As You Go

Celebrate and encourage more victories by updating the video with footage of the kid as they achieve each step. OK, WOW, I know that was a lot of steps. But, when you do it a few times, you’ll get the hang of it. And more than that, you’ll start to reap the benefits and see how much it’s worth it!


1. Google ‘em.

It may exist already!  Then, you don’t have to do anything…and that’s the dream.

2. Check Out Below.

These sites already got a bunch of ‘em!

  1. MightyKnightly’s How-To Videos for All Abilities
  2. Speech and Language Kids Social Skills Videos
  3. GemIIni
  4. Autism Internet Modules Video Modeling Steps


3. Share! 

  • Less work for all of us!
  • Powerfully showcases inclusion where a neurodiverse population can help all people.
  • AAAAND because this actually helps more people than you know!

We had made a video Let’s Go to the Dentist and shared it with his dentist.  She shared it with her clients and we were floored to hear the stories she’d tell us. Kids that refused, screamed when even entering the dentist’s office, were now willingly entering and sitting through the entire procedure while watching the video.

And should that really surprise us?

How many of us look at how-to videos all the time to learn new skills? How many of us watch inspiring documentaries that empower us to eat healthier, exercise, and travel?  And how many of us around the world today are battling with situations that are currently overwhelming for us?  I think all of us can think of a global issue right now that currently is just too hard for us.

Just like with my son, just like the kids you’ll be creating these for, we all just need:

To take one step at a time.

So try to video model. For your kids. Maybe even for you. I dare you.  Then, send me your videos and let me know what lifehacks you learn so we can all grow in this together.

Photo submitted by contributor.

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